APD first Texas law enforcement agency to introduce tool for reporting hate crimes

On Wednesday, the Austin Police Department became the first in the state of Texas to rollout the “safe place initiative.” 

The safe place initiative was first launched by the Seattle Police Department to address low reporting of LGBTQ crimes. The program has expanded to more than 200 police departments across the United States. 

On Wednesday, in the midst of Austin’s Pride Week, APD became the first in the state to pick up the initiative, as Halcyon, a coffee bar and lounge on W. 4th Street, became the state's first “safe place.” 

“Safe places” are designated spaces where victims of hate crimes and harassment can call 9-1-1 and wait for police to arrive 

“As these stickers go up, it will be identifying businesses across our community that stand in solidarity with and for these groups in our society that are so often marginalized or preyed upon by hate.” said Austin Police Chief Brian Manley. 

Cameron Hudgens, barista manager at Halcyon said he hopes the business is the “first of many.” 

“I hope that it’s gonna help spur not just other businesses in Austin, but other businesses around the state [to participate.]” he said. 

According to FBI data, the City of Austin had the highest number of hate crimes in Texas in 2017, the most recent year data was reported. Of the 18 hate crimes reported, four had “sexual orientation” listed as their motivation, one was listed as “gender identity.” 

“Working with the business community is a way to ensure that every member of our community regardless of ethnicity, regardless of gender, regardless of any demographic marker has a place they can go," council member Jimmy Flannigan said. "Where they can report when there are hate crimes. To report when there are unsafe situations, and to provide that training to the businesses."

Flannigan says the brutal attacks on Spencer Deehring and Tristian Perry that took place early this year influenced the city's decision to adopt the initiative. The two men say they were beaten unconscious because of their sexual orientation. They were attacked leaving a club on W. 4th Street, the same street Halcyon calls home. 

“Those people that feel emboldened to not just express that hatred verbally but physically, that’s not gonna be tolerated and they will be dealt with,” said Hudgens. 

Businesses can register to participate online. The website APDsafeplace.org will also soon be up and running.